This is the first of a three part series on how internal evaluators can think about building their organization’s evaluation capacity and sustainability and is based on a talk at Eval13 by the same name.
Any evaluator, internal or external, working to incorporate evaluative practices into nonprofit organizations must engage a wide variety of staff and systems in the design, implementation, and management of those practices. The success of those efforts will be decided to a large extent by how non-evaluators are brought into the evaluation tent, and how evaluation is integrated into administrative and service delivery systems. But how do we even begin?
Starting from Scratch
There are three main steps to coming up with any kind of strategy, including a strategy to build evaluation capacity.
1) Understand the context
Without knowing where you are starting, it is very hard to set realistic goals. So before you even start on your journey to build evaluation capacity, you have to know what you are working with. Get to know the people you will be working with, the restraints and requirements, the values and priorities of the organization. Conduct a SWOT analysis. Determine who your allies will be, where your largest barriers will arise. What will the culture of the organization support, and what is anathema to it? Much like a body will reject any transplant that is incompatible with it, an organization will respond poorly to an intervention that doesn’t resonate with its culture.
2) Define your destination and your path
Saying you want to ‘build evaluation capacity’ is not a good enough goal. What does that mean? What does that even look like? And how are you going to get there? What are interim benchmarks you can use to determine progress?
I have found three general strategies that have worked well for me: (1) make sure leadership is setting clear expectations for staff participation in evaluation activities, and holding them accountable for it, (2) start working with the high performers and people who already ‘get’ evaluation to create easy wins and visible successes, and (3) focus on the priorities of the people with influence – by convincing them of the value of evaluation, they will begin to shift the center of gravity in the organization closer to evaluation values.
3) Prepare the foundation
What is the bare minimum in resource needs for you to accomplish your goal? (Hopefully you were clear about resource needs before you even took the job.) This is going to be different for every situation, but we probably all know the feeling of not having enough resources to accomplish our goals.
For me, these things recently included: technology, training for evaluation staff, time commitment from people throughout the organization, and coworkers who would support me if I got backed into a corner. Some of these things I had to get budgetary approval for, but most of them were more about building strong and trusting relationships. I had to be transparent about my intentions and manage everyone’s expectations about what they were expected to give, and what they could expect to get from working with me. The first couple of months were more about creating strong relationships than about doing any ‘real’ evaluation work.
What strategies have worked for you? What have your pitfalls been when starting a new capacity building effort?
Next post, I’ll discuss how to create momentum around evaluation capacity building efforts.
Patrick Germain is the Director of Strategy and Evaluation at Project Renewal, a large homeless services organization in New York City and is the President of the New York Consortium of Evaluators, the local AEA affiliate.